The Southern Cross Club (SCC), originally named the Billy Tea Club, was founded in
Washington, D.C. in 1946 by Mrs. Nelson T. (Jane) Johnson who, during World War II,
spent four years in Canberra when her husband headed the United States Diplomatic
Mission to Australia. When Mrs. Johnson returned to Washington, it was her wish to
provide a venue for Australian and New Zealand women, as well as American women
with ties to either country to meet.
Prior to the founding of the Billy Tea Club, Mrs. Norman Makin, wife of the then
Australian Ambassador to the United States, held monthly teas at the Embassy
residence on Cleveland Avenue for the many recently arrived war brides from "Down
Under." It was at one of these teas that Mrs. Johnson conceived the idea of forming a
club for these young women.
With the help of an Australian friend, Evelyn Dutton, Mrs. Johnson put her plans into
commission. Lady Berendsen, wife of the New Zealand Minister to the United States,
was an active participant, and the first meeting of the organization was held at the New
Zealand Legation in Washington, DC in October 1946. Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Makin, and
Lady Berendsen were patrons.
The newly formed club's first organizational meeting was held in November 1946, at
which time Mrs. Betty Squires was elected president. Although the Billy Tea Club was a
social organization, it was the responsibility of all members to promote goodwill and
understanding with Americans. Finding an appropriate name for their unique synonym.
Finally, they decided upon the Billy Tea Club as a suitable name, for this nostalgic title
conjured up memories of picnics with the aroma of gum trees and burning wood
permeating the air while participants sipped tea around an open fire over which the Billy
The Billy Tea Club generated much interest among members of the blossoming
Australian/New Zealand community in the Washington, DC area, and through media
which included a growing number of Americans, reflected this interest. In 1950, men
background, including both the Australian and New Zealand Embassies, from the World
Bank, and from the International Monetary Fund., and
In the early to mid-fifties members were instrumental in raising funds for a number of
deserving causes. Some of these included donations to Childrens Hospital, a Korean
orphanage, the Australian Flood Relief Fund, the United States Olympic Team, and the
Welfare Fund of HMAS Sydney when the ship visited Washington, DC.
In 1952, with the flags of Australia and New Zealand in mind, it was decided by a
majority vote to change the club's name to The Southern Cross Club of Washington, DC,
naming it after the constellation featured on each flag.
Including the years when this club was known as The Billy Tea Club, this organization
has the distinction of being one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Australian/New Zealand
social organization in the United States.
This was hailed as an indispensable bridge in communication between the resident
and transient membership of the day. In 1956, a commemorative club history was
written. Then in 1971, with the accumulation of fifteen more years' of club activities a
Over the years, the philanthropic activities of the present club have often mirrored those
of the Billy Tea Club. One of the most notable of these was the donation to universities
in Australia and New Zealand, and to some high schools in both countries of sets of
books highlighting key historical events and persons in the United States. The club's
social activities throughout the years have been varied and diverse. These include
observances of national days, annual Christmas parties, summer luaus, ballroom and
square dancing events, card evenings, moonlight cruises on the Potomac River,
picnics, film screenings, receptions, and cocktail parties, brunches, and, of late, the
annual barbecue held at the New Zealand Embassy.
A statement in the club's 25th Anniversary history states "The achievements of the Billy
enormous personal contributions of many members since its inception. Each year the
stature and tradition of the group has grown."
As communication and travel brought our countries closer, the 1980's saw changes in
the club's activities and membership. The Southern Cross Club has members from all
age groups and occupations, including economists, civil servants, active and retired
military, authors, artists, medical researchers. On June 14, 1986, the club celebrated its
40th anniversary at a reception at the New Zealand Embassy, and the event drew club
members past and present from many US states. In 1987, members were featured in
the Australian ANZAC Day TV broadcast videotape, "For the Love of a Soldier." In
1989, several club members, including Sheila Roberson and Jean Surgi, were
instrumental in helping organize the Australia America Association. The Southern Cross
Club remained an associate "corporate" member of this organization for several years.
In honor of the memory of Jane Johnson, the club's founder who died on February 28,
1991, the Southern Cross Club presented an authentic Aboriginal artifact to the
Australian Embassy, and an original Maori artifact to the New Zealand Embassies.
The presentations made at receptions held at both embassies were attended by
members of the Johnson family and by many Southern Cross Club members.
|Pictured Left to right are: Colleen Greer, Betty Greer, NZ Ambassador Roy Ferguson, Dawn
Ferguson, Ben Greer